6 Trinity 2011

Dead On

Sixth Sunday after Trinity
July 31, 2011
Verse 3 of the 5th Chapter of Romans

It was from Bishop Seeland that I first heard used the term ‘Culture of Death.’ His profession before ordination to the priesthood was professor and lecturer in Ethics. In his latter years of lecturing he had come to include the topic of the Culture of Death.

It was no surprise then that he would speak of the topic with his clergy, as well as to those gathered at the final Synod at which he presided in Hereford, Arizona, stating that ‘world society’ is fast becoming one that participates (whether voluntarily and involuntarily, whether consciously or unconsciously) in certain practices that can properly be termed the ‘Culture of Death’.

He cited that the world was abhorred when it began to learn of the Nazi atrocities of death camps, gas chambers and ovens; with adults and children being exterminated like vermin solely because they were Jews, Catholic clerics or nuns, Gypsies or Homosexuals. The world resolve was that such must never be let to happen again!

Ironically, ‘contemporary society’ in general seems to have no qualm of conscience with regard to extermination of the innocent unborn for cause of inconvenience. And more recently, with regard to performing euthanasia as so-called ‘mercy-killing’ for the terminally ill and elderly, and further proposes to provide counseling to such like folk for consideration of the same. Concluded the bishop: We live, brethren, increasingly within a definitive ‘Culture of Death’.

Death! It stares us in the face every time we open the daily newspaper or turn on a radio or television newscast. Death has ever been a reality of everyday life! And yet we so live as to deny its reality. We concentrate much effort on skirting the fact of death, and of our own mortality.

Paradoxically, we prefer and pretend instead to live in a state of unreality — one of a ‘Culture of Youth.’ ‘Stay Young’ is the mantra. Try to look younger than you actually are. Don’t show or tell your true age. We relish those times when family, friends and other folk say to us, ‘You look great!’ But we cringe should they add – ‘For a person of your age!’

We are so bothered by death we have substituted euphemisms for the reality of death!
Decades ago we retitled: Death insurance – ‘Life’ insurance, Undertakers – Funeral Directors, funeral parlors – funeral homes, cemeteries – memorial parks, graves – ‘properties,’ and the

funeral itself – a memorial service or celebration of a life. And the dead are laid out and made
up to the extent they haven’t looked that good in years!

Hey! We would rather hear about youth; this talk of death is chilling! But Our Lord was not afraid or timid to speak of death. He spoke freely and often to his disciples of his own demise. ‘The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of wicked men and they will kill him…The Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified’.

Their response was always one of not understanding; or of not wanting or willing to hear of it. He even told his disciples bluntly to expect the same for themselves. ‘If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also…indeed the time is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.’

And this morning we have before us evidence that Paul was not afraid to speak on the subject of death either (as here an astounding 12 times within the span of 8 verses). For to Paul it is an important subject. Not a popular subject mind you; but an important one! So then, what has Paul to say of it?

He says first of all, we ‘died’ at baptism! That is to say we died to sin, Satan and the world. And we died to self; that we might rise to newness of life; that we might live unto God.

At baptism we were ‘buried’; as Christ himself was buried in the tomb. Whether dunked in water, or effused under it, or sprinkled with it we were ‘buried’ in the waters, not at sea, but in the Jordan (so to speak) – that Christ may live in us.

He even says we were ‘planted’; and he means in the watery grave of baptism. Elsewhere Jesus had used the analogy of a seed that must be planted and die in order to produce and bear fruit. His analogy hints of his own burial in the tomb, there to briefly await the bearing of fruit in his Resurrection from the dead.

Paul also lists the ‘cause’ of our death: Crucified with Jesus! That this body might be destroyed; just as our earthly body one day shall be, in the very dust from which it came, there to return to dust again.

How fortunate we were to ‘die’ with Christ. For Paul attests: If we be dead with Christ, we are freed from the bond and the power of sin. In truth one could attest: ‘Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ And being ‘dead’ with Christ we know we shall be fully alive with him in his Kingdom.

Paul says, with Christ, death is not ‘the end;’ but the beginning! Christ can never die again! In that he died, he died once! And will die only once! Death is powerless to strike
again. And the same will be true for us: unless we die the ‘second death:’ that of after this life, finding ourselves in Hell. Jesus said: ‘Fear not those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who after he has killed, has power to cast into hell. Yes I tell you, fear him!’

Paul assures us Jesus ‘died once’ but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Paul has attested it shall be likewise for us who believe in Jesus, and follow in his Way. We are dead unto sin, Satan and the world through the death we experienced in the waters of baptism, and were made alive unto God through Jesus’ death on the Cross. And we shall experience the fruit of that death at the General Resurrection.

F.D.R. said: ‘There is nothing to fear, but fear itself!’ Paul says: There is nothing to fear if one belongs to Jesus, and has been buried and been united with Christ in His death, grafted into him in baptism.

There is however a stipulation placed upon us at baptism, as expressed in a vow that we make. We promised to renounce the Devil and all his works, the crass materialism of the world, and to resist all sinful desires of the flesh. That says, we must LIVE as if TRULY we ARE ‘dead’ to the world! However, the honest and tragic truth is: We sin, and do sin again!
So, we must conclude: that ‘dying’ to sin is a long-process of its becoming: that is, becoming that which our baptismal ‘death’ promised and proclaimed: That we ARE indeed dead to sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is not by chance that the Church chose as one of the symbols associated with death, and more specifically with the Lord’s Death and Resurrection, the Butterfly. The little creature that begins its life in one form, spins its own grave, and in dying to its former self undergoes a metamorphosis enabling it to emerge in a higher form of life, no longer bound to crawl the earth, but enabled to fly with wings!

Don’t be afraid of death. Besides you can’t choose the when, the where or the how of it, anyway! And worrying about it will only get you there the sooner! Don’t be afraid of death. For in Christ, death hath no more dominion over you!